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The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
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The Woman in the Dunes (1962)

by Kōbō Abe

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English (28)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Its about this man who finds himself trapped in this very deep hole in the middle of the sand dunes with this woman who lives there, and they must dig the sand out every night to keep it from burying themselves and the house. it is a giant metaphor, of course, and reminds me of classic existentialist pieces, especially samuel beckett's play, Happy Days (and sartre's no exit, i've been told, but i've never seen that one).

i liked it but found it very distressing to read. the first thing the reader is told is that the man has been missing for seven years, so one can suppose how the story is going to end: he'll never escape the sand hole. this, compounded with the descriptive manner in which the story is written, made me feel as frustrated and angry and anxious and scared as the man himself feels. although the whole plot and circumstance is absurd, everything seems realistic, believable, futile. i guess that means its successful, but for me it was uncomfortably affecting and I'd often find myself getting anxious and panicky while reading it.

Very good book, and there's a pretty successful film adaptation, too.
( )
1 vote allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
I enjoy Murakami and was keen to explore more Japanese fiction; but unfortunately this novel just didn't appeal to me at all. Maybe I'm simply not cut out to read existential fiction. It is the story of Junpei Niki, usually described as just 'the man' or 'he', who is particularly interested in insects which make their home in a sandy environment. Taking a few days' holiday to search for insects on the dunes at the coast, he misses the return bus and seeks shelter in a nearby fishing village. This settlement is already in the process of being swallowed by the dunes, with some houses already half-buried at the bottom of deep pits. The man is lowered into one of these pits, and is welcomed by a woman who has space for him to stay; but little does he realise that the house can become a prison as easily as a sanctuary. From this point on the story becomes an allegory of humanity's struggle against the irresistible power of nature.

The problem is that I simply didn't care about the man or the woman - we don't grow to understand either of them and their interaction is devoid of all emotion beyond an almost mechanical response. And I just couldn't fathom what the moral was supposed to be. The futility of life? Our tendency to cling to what we know rather than making a break for freedom? An allegory of life and death, freedom and imprisonment, the working and the ruling classes? But where in the story is the heart or humanity that should make me care about any of this? While I might have enjoyed this as an existential teenager, I simply didn't find anything rewarding about it now. Please bear in mind however that others have found very admirable qualities, so I'd recommend reading other reviews before you make up your mind. For my part I won't be reading it again.

For a longer review - with even more bafflement - please see my blog:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-woman-in-dunes-kobo-abe.html ( )
  Leander2010 | Oct 30, 2013 |
Read this in college. Just blew me away. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
While reading this book my thoughts were constantly racing towards Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus” "From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all."

Premises of hope, alienation and irrationality reeking from every printed word induced me into inferring Kobo Abe being the Japanese Camus. The protagonist Junpei Niki illustrates traits of Sisyphean persona; pursuing meaningless task of digging buckets of sand from the pit only to see it fill up again.

Junpei an entomologist on a mission to find rarest sand beetles finds himself deceivingly trapped by the villagers in a sand dune to dig up loads of sand in order to sell it to the cities. The sandpit encloses a widow’s house who manipulates Junpei to help her clear the sand or her house may collapse with its graveness.

Influenced on the lines of Sartre’s ‘No Exit’; conveys existence of a “hell hole” that life somehow seems to open when stagnated survival justifies adaptation. It’s only through the darkness of hell does the irony of hope and absurdity thrive the strongest. The sand filled dwelling of enslaved Junpei is a metaphor of the daily anguish of a modern lives depleted in a bedlam and uncertainty of optimism and ludicrousness. Abe speaks about adapting without being adamant on a fixed position to survive the competition.

"Didn't unpleasant competition arise precisely because one tried to cling to a fixed position? If one were to give up a fixed position and abandon oneself to the movement of the sands, competition would soon stop."

The ubiquitous sand emerges to be a disposition in its own transforming from a soundless spectator to a sadistic tormentor with harrowing depths of obscurity and ordeal. Sand with its mass of minute grains is a nasty piece of work corroding every speck of trust propelling it into an abyss of sardonic paranoia.

Primarily Junpei appeared to be a pathetic and more interested ogling at the naked widow rather than trying hard to free himself. But as the novel proceeded one could find him to be a victim of impractical circumstances drowned in confusion and horror. Until he could make sense of the happenings, time had elapsed and made him sympathetic towards the woman and accustomed to infertile survival. Junpei’s return to the sand dune after having a successful escape and garnered sympathy towards the widow and villagers, exhibit signs of the Stockholm syndrome.

Is it then that the barren sand resembles the utilitarian perils that we as individuals strive against everyday and at times when the going gets tough, we resort to detrimental actions or are compassionate to the soulless endurance?

( )
  Praj05 | Apr 5, 2013 |
The Woman in the Dunes seems like the kind of novel better read in a class or with a group than alone. I kept thinking, "if I had time to study this, I could probably find a million parallels, metaphors for life, and miscellaneous meanings. The main character, whom I found unlikable, goes through some amazing changes, changes I could relate to, in the face of what is essentially a horrifying imprisonment. I read most of the book in one day. Had I not done so (despite my wish to study it), I may never have finished. The overall tone is bleak and depressing. At its heart, I'd have to say that this is a dystopian novel, making it the second one I've run across this year. My impulse while reading about this world was to turn away, to not learn anymore about it. And this should come as no surprise, but that is not my favorite reaction to have to a book. ( )
  anneearney | Mar 31, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kōbō Abeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abe, MachiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saunders, E. DaleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
WITHOUT THE THREAT
OF PUNISHMENT
THERE IS NO JOY
IN FLIGHT
罰がなければ、逃げるたのしみもない
Dedication
First words
One day in August a man disappeared.
八月のある日、男が一人、行方不明になった。
Quotations
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Es gibt wahrhaftig kein wunderlicheres, so von Neid zerfressenes Wesen wie einen Schullehrer! Da strömen die Schüler Jahr für Jahr gleich einem Fluß an ihm vorbei, nur er selber bleibt wie ein tief auf dem Grund des Flusses liegender Stein zurück. Er kann wohl anderen von Hoffnungen erzählen, aber ihm selber sind sie nicht erlaubt. Er kommt sich nutzlos vor und verfällt entweder in selbstquälerischen Trübsinn oder wird ein Moralprediger, der anderen vorschreiben will, wie sie zu leben haben. Eigenwilligkeit und Tatkraft anderer müssen ihm schon deswegen zuwider sein, weil er selber sich aus tiefster Seele danach sehnt.
"... Schriftsteller werden zu wollen, bedeutet, von Egoismus besessen zu sein; man will sich von einer Marionette dadurch unterscheiden, daß man selber als Puppenspieler in Erscheinung tritt. Insofern unterscheidet man sich nicht wesentlich von Frauen, die ein Make-up benutzen."

"Das ist zu hart formuliert! Aber wenn sie schon das Wort Schriftsteller in diesem Sinne gebrauchen, sollten Sie wenigstens bis zu einem gewissen Grad zwischen einem Schriftsteller und dem Schreiben unterscheiden!"

"Ja, genau das meine ich. Eben aus diesem Grund wollte ich Schriftsteller werden. Und wenn mir das nicht gelingt, sehe ich nicht ein, weshalb ich schreiben sollte!"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679733787, Paperback)

This beautiful novel by one of Japan's most important writers is also one of the most strangely terrifying and memorable books you'll ever read. The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town. An amazing book.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this famous postwar Japanese novel, the first of Abe's to be translated into English, Niki Jumpei, an amateur entomologist in pursuit of a rare specimen of beetle, wanders into a strange seaside village, whose residents all live in sandpits. He is taken prisoner, and, along with a widow cast out by the community, he is forced to move into her sandpit and continually shovel away the sand that threatens to take over the village. In Niki's struggles to escape his prison and his developing relationship with the woman, he gradually comes to understand the existential nature of life.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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